Game of Thrones is Back: A Song List

TyrionA few weeks back I admitted (ok, reiterated) my own geekiness when I was hyperbolically excited about the fact that Night Riots has a song named “Berelain” after a character from Robert Jordan’s recently (and posthumously) completed Wheel of Time series. I must add, however, that my geek credentials are the real-thing: I get paid to teach about mythology and to write about ancient poetry.

(Well, the credentials are spotty. I mentioned earlier that I actually played a bard to the 21st or 22nd level in a role-playing game. At one point, I actually tried to write music for the fictional character to perform. I am so ever grateful that I don’t remember it and that the internet did really exist to record my follies back then.)

This week? I have been eagerly awaiting the return of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Now, as readers of this blog know, my brother and I occasionally get excited about television, but not too often. We both like The Walking Dead. He gets into things like Doomsday Preppers while I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which he will not watch). But Game of Thrones is something that we share. And there is an important reason.

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Songs of the Year—2003

If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it.
For it is not easy to find by search or by trail.

–Heraclitus

Songs of the Year: “Sha Sha,” Ben Kweller; “Such Great Heights,” The Postal Service
Runners Up: “We Used to Be Friends,” The Dandy Warhols; “Jesus on the Radio,” Guster
Honorable Mentions: “Hurt,” Johnny Cash; “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” The Darkness

I watched this clip 10K times the day Johnny Cash died

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Learning About New Music: Part 4: Ladies Night

Some time ago theelderj invited me to join this community and help find new music (well, at least new to me) and to share it with whoever wants to join in (my username has changed slightly, but pay no attention to the man behind the webpage). It has actually been quite fun searching the depths of the internet for new bands. After wading through sloughs of hipster trash and faux indie rock I’ve learned it is not necessarily about finding that band nobody has heard of, but is more about that band that has more than one song you can listen to without tearing the headphones out of the computer and blocking Youtube from the preferred sites list.

My musical dry spell was moistened recently after finding some good new bands through my often frustrating yet rewarding band finding system. I’m keeping my system a secret but am still paranoid someone will find out how I am doing this and make me obsolete. So after finding a fairly large group of artists I noticed something that had not happened before, at least half of the bands I found were fronted by a woman. After a little more digging, a total of nine bands are being presented in this post, some are well known, some are not, and some are on the way. OK ladies, tonight it’s your turn.

Band: The Joy Formiddable
Song: Whirring

These guys have been around for a while and recently participated in the SXSW festival I couldn’t attend due to a severe lack of personal monetary stock. This song has been bouncing around alternative stations for a while now and the sweet sound of Ritzy Bryan singing/yelling at me feels better than I expected. There may be more technical terms to describe what is going on in this track, but this is just a good pop song.

Band: The Naked and Famous
Song: Youngblood

Before appearing in what seemed to be every commercial around (before The Lumineers and Imagine Dragons stole that title) this song was also famous for being featured in an episode of Canadian teen soap opera Degrassi, featuring none other than the dumbass who started the YOLO craze Drake, who starred as what the internet has affectionately dubbed “wheelchair Jimmy.” My sister used to watch that show, I should hate everything that has ever appeared on that show but my goodness I love this song. It’s sounds too “pop,” the lyrics are sentimental, and do I need to say it again? Canadian teen soap opera. But you can’t stop our love, all I want to do is dance around in my room with nothing but my boxer-briefs on and rock out to some Naked and Famous.

Band: Blondfire
Song: Where the Kids Are

Blondfire is like the first two bands I listed here in that they are an Indie rock group struggling to really break out. This song has had some exposure on the radio and is also another one of those songs that has potential TV commercial overuse written all over it. So far I have yet to hear another song as good as Where the Kids Are but that doesn’t mean the potential for really good things isn’t there.

Band: Gin Wigmore
Song: Man Like That

So I bet you didn’t think that The Naked and Famous were from New Zealand? Neither did I until Google,  and I also didn’t know Gin Wigmore had herself a pretty good gig going. Unless you live under a rock or a bridge or a state south of the Ohio river you have seen the Heineken commercial with James Blonde and the hot foreign girl he lets die (spoiler alert). Well whaddaya know, there’s Gin singing her heart out. I’m not big into the 60’s soul revival movement and I was kinda hoping it would die with Amy Winehouse but Adele decided to become as ubiquitous as all of Amy’s “mourners” did after that fiasco.  Wigmore has a damn good voice and I would love to see her sing the next Bond theme, if Adele doesn’t Hulk slam her out of the way.

Band: Churchill
Song: Change

So I’ll keep on riding the soul movement with Churchill, so they’re not like Gin Wigmore but Change has some nice soul-like elements to it and Bethany Kelly can sing it if she wanted to. And holy shit another band from my old haunt of Denver (The Lumineers), at this rate Colorado will finally get in the news for something awesome instead of kinda depressing.

Band: Mal Scoppa and the Tall Tales
Song: The Things You Love

From the depths of Youtube comes a band that is pure potential. You will find one good quality video of them, the rest look like a three year old putting an iphone in its mouth. So they are Youtube sensations right now, but they have a good sonic base and Mal has a sweet voice. With the folk/country/rock amalgamations running rampant and becoming popular right now The Tall Tales can easily break into the big time.

Band: Nico Vega
Song: Beast

I’m totally switching gears with this one, Nico Vega is let loose in this song and it is awesome. A total assault (in a good way) on the ears, Beast was used for the trailer for the game Bioshock: Infinite (which I happen to know nothing about). Hopefully they will keep going with this hard rock sound because Aja Volkman is built for it.

Band: States
Song: Another Chapter

States is relatively new, forming from the ashes of some band named Lydia, Mindy White fronts the Indie rock band with a nice punk pop sound. If you are a fan of Paramore you will like the sound of these guys. Taken from their initial EP, States actually has an album out unlike some of the other bands I have listed here (Sorry about that). And not to objectify or anything, but the singer is totally hot.Image

Band: CHVRCHES
Song
: Lies

I like this band far more than I should, in fact I love this band. They have an EP due out out March 26 and I need to hear it, so far I only get Youtube videos and whatever I can acquire using methods that (allegedly) violate Youtube’s terms of service. All this band needs is a drummer, I don’t mind that it’s just two dudes on some synths and Lauren Mayberry singing, and also sometimes playing a synth. Lies has an awesome sound with a heavy bass and electronic beat that merge well with Mayberry’s voice. Check out the song Recover to see that their sound can be more pop influenced and still sound good. Plus, like States, their singer is gorgeous.

ImageNow, off to find their tour schedule…

The Notorious B.I.G.: Amazing across all socio-economic divisions.

I can’t tell you how many times I joined in with about ten white kids yelling the lyrics to this song and almost every other Biggy track I mention in this post. Just last night, I got strange looks from the slide guitar player in my band when I threw this track on after we finished up working on our original music. Not everyone got into gangster rap out here.

I love gangster rap. I talked a while back about my affinity for this genre, starting with the work of the Wu Tang Clan and now moving to the unmatched and incomparable Notorious B.I.G. Of all the solo rappers out there, I can say with earnest that Biggy is my favorite. His combination of hard core gangster and lovable family man coupled with some of the dopest beats in hip hop and often highly introspective lyrical thoughts on street life and the rap game add up to make him the reigning king of gangster rap.

How does an upper-lower middle-class Scandinavian kid from the great white north end up being such a huge Biggy fan? I think that he was such an immense talent and personality, it doesn’t matter where you are from or what color you are to stand up and recognize that this shit is the bomb. And if you don’t know, now you will know.

I watched Casino a lot as a youth and I always loved the reference to the movie in this song. This song has one of the best beats in hip hop music ever while also making an incredibly viable point about mass media and death. Would The Doors be so big if Morrison had lived? What about Jimi Hendrix or Janice Joplin? You can never tell, but it’s a good topic to explore another day!

The closest thing we have to ‘the streets’ in rural Maine is the trailer park which is where I began my education in rap music. Everyone listened to Tupac, Eminem and a slew of other hip-hop artists of varying qualities. Biggy was always a mainstay, the baby-faced gangster from the urban warfare of  Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn in the 1970’s where a 1977 power outage led to hundreds of stores being looted and many more burned to the ground. We are talking about a man who was equal parts court jester and bloodthirsty criminal. In hindsight, I think it’s this juxtaposition that makes him such an enigmatic character, thug and teddy bear. As he puts it in “Machine Gun Funk”, just because he joked and toked a lot doesn’t mean he doesn’t tote the Glock. Lyrically, not many rappers have ever come close to the eloquent and gritty nature of the Notorious.

The production on his tracks is always top notch and this is due in no small part to the skills of Mr. Sean “Puff Daddy”, aka “Diddy” or whatever the fuck he calls himself now. He was a mover and shaker in the NYC hip hop scene and brought on Easy Mo Bee to help produce this album, a genius producer who had worked with Wu Tang Clan’s GZA, Big Daddy Kane and was even behind  Miles Davis’ last album in 1992.

His lyrics  have a nice easy flow to them that allow you to actually hear them the first time and see how they fit into whatever narrative is happening in the song. This seems like an obvious trait for any rapper, but check out rap from today, such as some recent Lil’ Wayne tracks. I don’t know if I’m too sober,  but his tracks have been making less sense to me than ever before. With a recent trip to the hospital for allegedly overdosing on codeine cough syrup, it’s not surprising that his songs have made less sense.. My 8th grade students tell me he is doing painkillers too, but this is neither here nor there.

Biggie’s first album Ready to Die is one of the best rap albums ever, running a whole cycle of stories from party songs like “Big Poppa” and reflective songs like “Juicy” to a song about contemplating suicide and then doing it in “Suicidal Thoughts”. One thing I love about Biggy is the lack of celebrity guest rappers on this first album. The only one to really feature another rapper on the debut is “The What” with the incredibly talented Method Man dropping some serious rhymes. One can see why being such a fan of Wu Tang would also lend well to Biggy, but I can’t remember which I got into first. I am leaning towards the latter though. In the days of entire albums of guest stars, it’s nice to see an artist who only needs himself and a few good producers.

I have given a lot of thought as to what the appeal was to this music to me as a youth because let’s face it, I had a very easy upbringing with almost no elements of the street life. I think the answer is a multi-faceted response. First, the Notorious B.I.G. is an amazing performer regardless of the genre he makes his music in, from the lyrics to the production to the whole persona.  Biggy is the man and anyone who likes any type of music can see that. And he also pulled himself up from the streets, sold drugs and then used his experiences to pursue his greatest passion and change the rap genre forever. His gritty tales really do tell a story of a place that is scary and exciting to me, probably because I’ve never been held up at gunpoint or sold crack to feed my family. I’ve never held anyone else up either but I do love hearing Biggy rap about it.

So I don’t think it really matters where you are from, Biggy truly does pass above all socio-economic divisions. I can promise you that anyone who likes hip hop likes Biggy and even if they are rock and rollers, there is at least one song they can get into. This leads nicely to my final point. Like the Felice Brothers or Creedence Clearwater Revival doing genres of music that are not necessarily aligned with where they are from, music does not have geographic , racial, economic or any boundaries for that matter. It is perfectly ok for me to love the Notorious B.I.G. even though I am white and live in the woods, just as it’d be ok for Biggy to be into Lucky Tubb if he was alive and so inclined. Music is a universal language to be spoken wherever it wants to be. Socio-economic lines mean nothing for good music and if that’s the one thing you get out of this post then I’ll be happy. Oh yeah, and the fact that Biggy was probably the best rapper ever!

I think if Biggy had not been needlessly gunned down in the yet to be unsolved murder in Los Angeles, his music would have gone this more poppy direction. I will add that I am sure many of the violent and misogynistic lyrics are frowned upon by those who think song lyrics can push people to act out some of these terrible things. Like I’ve said before, no one has ever shot a man in Reno just to watch him die because of a song; they are surely already crazy. So, I am sorry if anyone is offended by some of this rap lyrics. The joy of the modern era is that  we all have the freedom to listen or not listen.

New Music, Old Ska: From the Taliband to the Parka Kings

Ah, another week, another list of songs from the Only D. He got lazy this week (I could say he had a ‘weak week’, but that would be a lame pun) and sent me only a few. So, along the way I plan to school him on 90s ska.

Or something like that. Anyway, here’s to some new music in the house.

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To Solo or Not to Solo: Is that a Question?

My brother and I have had an ongoing debate for the past few years. In fact, I think that this debate probably predates this blog by a healthy length of time. See, he has a predilection for bands that use what I consider to be too much noise. I have a taste for music that he, at times, considers too ‘emo’ or something like that.

This summary, of course, doesn’t fairly represent either the depth of the discussion or the opinions on either side. The whole concern, I suspect, is so directly connected to our  converging but essentially separate music aesthetics as to represent in toto our different characters and world outlooks.

Most recently, we have been debating the musical structure of songs by Mumford & Sons. One thing we both recognize (and disagree about) is that what sets the band and their style (shared in part with bands like the Lumineers and The Last Bison) is in the eschewal of conventional rock instrumentation—the abandonment of both the drumset and the iconoclastic lead guitar.

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Why I love the guitar solo.

One of my favorite solos ever, almost certainly the favorite for the mighty Led Zeppelin. I’ve loved this one for over a decade which is not the same I can say for those old Foo Fighters records. Just listen to how he keeps building the solo until there is a climax, not unlike a sexual experience. Many people, including an interview I can now not find with Jimmy Page, have ascertained that songs like  “Stair way to Heaven” are modeled like this for that exact reason.

The Elder and I talked about Mumford last week and he commented on my post after some back and forth that he thought most guitar solos are “superfluous ostentation” which I think is the equivalent of tail fins on a car. They look cool and add to the overall picture but don’t really do much for the ride. (He continues the debate here.)

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